Calgary

'We know vaping has risks': Alberta looking at new regulations

Health Minister Tyler Shandro has asked MLA Jeremy Nixon to lead a review of the province's tobacco and smoking legislation, with a focus on regulating vaping.

Review of tobacco and smoking legislation will be completed by end of 2019

MLA Jeremy Nixon will lead a review of tobacco and smoking legislation now that vaping has been linked to severe lung disease. (Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press)

Health Minister Tyler Shandro asked MLA Jeremy Nixon on Wednesday to lead a review of the province's tobacco and smoking legislation, with a focus on regulating vaping.

"Like most Albertans, I'm concerned about the rising use of vaping products, especially among young people, and recent reports of severe lung disease associated with these products. We don't know yet what the links are, but we know vaping has risks," said Shandro in a release. 

He says Alberta needs evidence-based regulation of tobacco and vaping products.

"The fact is smoking and vaping rates are up in the last two years and there is an obvious concern they're connected.… We have a higher rate of teen smoking than the national average," said Shandro.

Right now, Alberta's smoking and tobacco legislation doesn't specifically address vaping.

"There's also questions around the use of tobacco-like products such as the use of hookahs and water pipes in public spaces.… Vaping is a special concern but the review is of the whole field of tobacco," he said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Nixon, MLA for Calgary-Klein, says he shares the minister's concerns.

"Vaping has emerged as a new key health threat to Albertans.… We want to keep highly enticing, attractive vape products out of the hands of our kids and teens, and that's why we will have an aggressive agenda and will be meeting with a wide variety of stakeholders," Nixon said at the news conference.

The MLA says that during the review they will meet with vaping shops to see the financial implications of proposed changes in legislation.

"I'm looking forward to hearing from Albertans, because good policy needs to reflect the public's views as well as the evidence," said Nixon in a release.

The review will begin by Nov. 1, and is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Any amendments will be introduced in the spring 2020 session of the legislature.

Rise of vaping-related illness

Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health added vaping-related acute severe lung illness to the official list of "notifiable conditions" under the Public Health Act on Sept. 5.

To date, no Alberta cases have been reported.

However, in the United States, hundreds of Americans have been reported to have a vaping-related breathing illness, and health officials say the death toll has risen to 13.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control said 805 confirmed and probable cases have been reported, and, at this point, illnesses have occurred in almost every state.

In Canada, a Quebec resident was diagnosed with the first case of a severe vaping-related breathing illness. Federal officials confirmed the illness in late September.

"In this case, it does meet the criteria, and yes, it is considered the first vaping-related illness [in Canada] related to what's happening in the States," said Maryse Durette, senior media relations adviser for Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The patient, a person in their 50s who lives in Montreal, was recently admitted to hospital with breathing problems, and had been vaping for a few months as a way to quit smoking, said Dr. Mylène Drouin, director of public health for the Montreal region.

The symptoms

In Canada, the definition of a vaping-related severe pulmonary illness case includes the following criteria:

  • Symptoms such as shortness of breath, cough, chest pain, with or without vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever.
  • History of vaping or dabbing (using THC concentrates like oil or wax) 90 days prior to symptom onset.
  • Pulmonary infiltrate, which is a substance denser than air, such as pus, blood or protein in the lungs.
  • Negative results on tests for a lung infection.
  • No evidence in medical records of alternative plausible diagnoses.

Anyone who has used an e-cigarette or vaping products and has experienced these symptoms is advised to consult a health-care professional.

With files from The Associated Press and CBC News

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